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Fort Dodge, Iowa
Central Avenue
Central Avenue
Flag of Fort Dodge, Iowa
Official seal of Fort Dodge, Iowa
Official logo of Fort Dodge, Iowa
Frontier of the Future
Location in the State of Iowa
Location in the State of Iowa
Country United States
State  Iowa
County Webster
Incorporated 1869
 • Total 16.27 sq mi (42.15 km2)
 • Land 16.01 sq mi (41.46 km2)
 • Water 0.27 sq mi (0.69 km2)
1,155 ft (352 m)
 • Total 24,871
 • Density 1,553.66/sq mi (599.87/km2)
Time zone UTC−6 (CST)
 • Summer (DST) UTC−5 (CDT)
ZIP code
Area code(s) 515
FIPS code 19-28515
GNIS feature ID 0456686

Fort Dodge is a city in, and the county seat of, Webster County, Iowa, United States, along the Des Moines River. The population was 24,871 in the 2020 census, a decrease from 25,136 in 2000. Fort Dodge is a major commercial center for North Central and Northwest Iowa. It is located on U.S. Routes 20 and 169.


Fort Dodge, established in 1850 - History of Iowa
Fort Dodge, illustrated by William Williams, 1852.

Fort Dodge traces its beginnings to 1850 when soldiers from the United States Army erected a fort at the junction of the Des Moines River and Lizard Creek. It was originally named Fort Clarke but was renamed Fort Dodge because there was another fort with the same name in Texas. It was named after Henry Dodge, a governor of Wisconsin Territory (which included Iowa at the time). The fort was abandoned by the Army in 1853.

The next year William Willams, a civilian storekeeper in Fort Dodge, purchased the land and buildings of the old fort. The town of Fort Dodge was founded in 1869. In 1872 the long and continuing history of gypsum production in Iowa started when George Ringland, Webb Vincent, and Stillman T. Meservey formed the Fort Dodge Plaster Mills to mine, grind, and prepare gypsum for commercial use. The Company constructed the first gypsum mill west of the Mississippi River, at the head of what is now known as Gypsum Creek.


Fort Dodge is located at 42°30′25″N 94°10′50″W / 42.50694°N 94.18056°W / 42.50694; -94.18056 (42.506803, −94.180271), on the Des Moines River.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 16.31 square miles (42.24 km2), of which, 16.05 square miles (41.57 km2) is land and 0.26 square miles (0.67 km2) is water.


Historical population
Census Pop.
1860 672
1870 3,095 360.6%
1880 3,586 15.9%
1890 4,871 35.8%
1900 12,162 149.7%
1910 15,543 27.8%
1920 19,347 24.5%
1930 21,895 13.2%
1940 22,904 4.6%
1950 25,115 9.7%
1960 28,399 13.1%
1970 31,263 10.1%
1980 29,423 −5.9%
1990 25,894 −12.0%
2000 25,136 −2.9%
2010 25,206 0.3%
2020 24,871 −1.3%
U.S. Decennial Census
Fort DodgeIowaPopPlot
The population of Fort Dodge, Iowa from US census data

2010 census

As of the census of 2010, there were 25,206 people, 10,275 households, and 5,850 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,570.5 inhabitants per square mile (606.4/km2). There were 11,215 housing units at an average density of 698.8 per square mile (269.8/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 89.7% White, 5.5% African American, 0.4% Native American, 0.8% Asian, 1.4% from other races, and 2.2% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 5.0% of the population.

There were 10,275 households, of which 27.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 39.5% were married couples living together, 13.0% had a female householder with no husband present, 4.4% had a male householder with no wife present, and 43.1% were non-families. 36.8% of all households were made up of individuals, and 14.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.21 and the average family size was 2.89.

The median age in the city was 36.8 years. 21.8% of residents were under the age of 18; 13.2% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 23.4% were from 25 to 44; 25.3% were from 45 to 64; and 16.2% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 51.3% male and 48.7% female.

Arts and culture


The Fort Museum and Frontier Village is located on the southwest edge of Fort Dodge. It is a full-scale recreation of a military outpost on the prairie from the 19th century. It also features a reconstructed village from the same time period. Additionally, The Fort Museum has a replica of the Cardiff Giant, an archaeological hoax sculpted from gypsum mined at Fort Dodge. A "Frontier Days" event is held annually on the Fort Museum grounds. It features a parade, beauty pageant, historical reenactments, a buckskinner camp, and live entertainment. 2014 marked the 40th year of the event.


The Blanden Memorial Art Museum, the first public museum of art in the state of Iowa, is located in the historic Oak Hill district of Fort Dodge. The Blanden, opened June 5, 1932, is renowned as one of the finest small museums in the nation for its extensive permanent collection as well as popular touring exhibits. The permanent collection on display includes European and American artists prints, sculptures and paintings. The museum also offers a wide variety of art classes geared toward children and adults.


Fort Dodge maintains several music organizations, including a civic choral society, a city-funded municipal band, regional symphony orchestra, a Christian choral union, and a men's barbershop chorus.

Shellabration is an annual rock concert held in late July/early August at the Oleson Park Music Pavilion, featuring nationally touring rock groups. Previous performing bands include Journey, Foreigner, REO Speedwagon, and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

The Lizard Creek Blues Society sponsors an annual blues festival, "Blues Under the Trees," every summer, drawing blues musicians from all over the United States.

Fort Dodge Choir Boosters (affiliated with Fort Dodge Senior High School) hosts the annual "Fort Dodge Choral Festival," which features high school and college choirs from around the upper Midwest under the direction of a nationally recognized conductor/composer.

Fort Dodge Senior High School serves as a host location for the Iowa state marching band festival, state Solo & Small Ensemble festival, and regional high school jazz band competitions.


Theater and musical theater are historically popular arts activities in Fort Dodge, with the community maintaining three independent theater organizations. Hawkeye Community Theatre puts on six full-length productions a year of varied genre. Comedia Musica Players is a civic musical theater troupe that produces an annual musical each fall. Stage Door Productions provides theater training and performance opportunities for middle school, high school, and college-aged students during the summer. It produces one small-cast (10 or fewer) play per year.

The two local high schools and the community college produce a student-cast musical each Spring. The Fort Dodge Senior High School musical is the longest-running high school musical theater tradition in the United States, first produced in 1927.

Fort Dodge Historical Structures

Parks and recreation

Oleson Park has woods and hiking trails. The town's recently restored band shell is located here. Oleson Park Zoo boasts a small zoo (closed in 2015) featuring a small population of albino white tailed deer and other animals. It is not an AZA (American Zoo and Aquarium Association) accredited zoo and the zoo's USDA license number 42-C-0128, has been cited over 15 times in the last 2 years by the USDA inspectors.

Snell-Crawford Park (located at Williams Drive and 12th Avenue North) is a local favorite for weekend recreation. It has a disc golf course, three sand volleyball courts, a jogging/walking/bicycling trail, picnic tables, and grills. Soldier Creek runs through the park.

Rosedale Rapids, the city's new multimillion-dollar aquatic center, opened north of the roundabout intersection of 10th Avenue North and North 32nd Street in July 2010. The aquatic center features swimming pools, water slides, and a lazy river.

John F. Kennedy Park is the nearest camping facility to Fort Dodge. It has a large campground, a lake with a swimming beach, a playground, and hiking trails. Lakeside Municipal Golf Course, an 18-hole course, is located here.

The 300 acres (1.2 km2) Gypsum City Off-Highway Vehicle Park opened to the public on July 6, 2006. The park is located on abandoned gypsum mines. Plans are in place for the park to be expanded to as much as 1,500 acres (6.1 km2) in the future.

Fort Dodge is a top tubing destination in the state, offering the swift and clear waters of Lizard Creek, solitude on the Des Moines River from Fort Dodge to the Dolliver Memorial State Park, and the nearby lake at Brushy Creek.

The Fort Dodge Country Club par 71 golf course is one of Iowa's top courses.

Woodman Hollow State Preserve lies roughly 7 miles southeast of Fort Dodge.

Fort Frenzy opened east of town in late 2013. It features family-friendly activities such as an arcade, bumper boats, mini golf, go karts, laser tag, professional boxing, skating, and bowling.

Sister cities

As of December 13, 2016, Fort Dodge has one sister city:


The major industries of Fort Dodge are biofuels, livestock feed, gypsum and limestone mining, can production, drywall manufacturing, trucking, the manufacture of veterinary pharmaceuticals and vaccines, and retail.

Gypsum rock is processed into drywall and plaster products at several Fort Dodge manufacturing facilities. Drywall was patented by a Fort Dodge resident, and the gypsum used to create the Cardiff Giant hoax of the late 19th century was mined at Fort Dodge. Currently National Gypsum Company, Georgia Pacific Corporation, Celotex Corporation,- now CertainTeed corporation- and the United States Gypsum Company operate gypsum facilities in and around Fort Dodge.

Fort Dodge is the home of Fort Dodge Animal Health (a division of Boehringer Ingelheim), a major producer of pharmaceuticals and vaccines for veterinarian use. The company's headquarters were moved from Fort Dodge to Overland Park, Kansas in 1995. Two of the company's three United States manufacturing plants are located in Fort Dodge.

At least three major national trucking companies (primarily flatbed carriers serving the drywall industry) are based in Fort Dodge. The city also serves as a retail center for North-Central Iowa.

For most of the 20th century, meatpacking was a major industry in Fort Dodge. The last two large meatpacking plants (owned by Iowa Beef Processors and Hormel) closed during the 1980s, when such companies moved their facilities closer to beef production in western states such as the Dakotas. One of the laboratories of Fort Dodge Animal Health was built on the site of a former Hormel processing plant.

The Fort Dodge Correctional Facility, a 1,250-bed medium-security state prison, opened in 1998.


Fort Dodge is the home to the central campus of Iowa Central Community College.

Fort Dodge is served by the Fort Dodge Community School District. The public school system includes Fort Dodge Senior High School (9−12), Fort Dodge Middle School (5−8), and several elementary schools. Duncombe Elementary closed briefly in 2015 due to structural issues, and was operating in the former Fair Oaks Middle School. The new building opened in Fall 2018, and serves grades 1–4. Private schools in Fort Dodge include St. Edmond (Preschool−12), Community Christian School (Preschool−8), St Paul Lutheran (Preschool−8), and Harvest Baptist School (K−12).

Fort Dodge has been the location of Iowa High School Athletic Association championship events. Currently, the cross country championships are held at John F. Kennedy Park north of the town. Fort Dodge also hosts the Iowa girls' softball championship tournament at Harlan Rogers Park.


Surface transportation

U.S. Route 20 bypasses Fort Dodge to the south, and U.S. 169 skirts the west side of the city; both highways have business routes through town. Iowa Highway 7 has its terminus at the northwest edge of the city.

DART (Dodger Area Rapid Transit) maintains six local bus routes that connect to most commercial, medical, and educational locations on weekdays only.

Jefferson Bus lines serves Fort Dodge with a link to Williams, where travelers can connect to the expanded Jefferson line.


The Fort Dodge Regional Airport (FOD) is located just north of town. It is primarily a general aviation airport, with some commercial service provided by Air Choice One. Daily direct flights are operated to Lambert-St. Louis International Airport and Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport, with connecting service through Mason City to Chicago O'Hare International Airport.

Notable people

  • Lewis Armistead (February 18, 1817 – July 5, 1863), as part of Pickett's Charge during the Battle of Gettysburg, he led his brigade to the high-water mark of the Confederacy
  • Lew Anderson (1922–2006), last Clarabell the Clown on Howdy Doody
  • Samuel Z. Arkoff, B movie producer
  • Cathie Beck, journalist and writer
  • Suzanne M. Bianchi (1952–2013), sociologist
  • Joan Blaine, actress
  • Scott Bloomquist, race car driver
  • Clara Breed, librarian and activist on behalf of Japanese-Americans during World War II
  • Holm O. Bursum, politician for the state of New Mexico
  • Cyrus Clay Carpenter (1829–1898), Governor of Iowa
  • Nick Collison, professional basketball player
  • Gene Elston, sportscaster and Baseball Hall of Fame honoree
  • Nate Erdmann, professional basketball player
  • Lou Fiene (1884–1964), Major League Baseball pitcher
  • Gene Ford (1912–1970), Major League Baseball pitcher
  • Robert Garrison, sculptor
  • William Greehey, (businessman and philanthropist born 1936) born in Fort Dodge and graduated from Fort Dodge Senior High School in 1954. Founder of Valero Energy, Nustar Energy, and the 2001 recipient of the distinguished Horatio Alger Award
  • Thomas Heggen, author of Mister Roberts, which was made into a Broadway play and a Hollywood film
  • Walter Howey, journalist and editor
  • Mary Kelly, artist, social activist, educator and writer
  • Corita Kent, artist, social activist and nun
  • William S. Kenyon, U.S. senator and federal appeals court judge
  • Karl King, conductor
  • Bill Koll (1923–2003) NCAA champion, Wrestling Hall of Fame member
  • Lisa Koll (born 1987), NCAA record holder in 10,000 metres
  • Mitch Krebs, news anchor
  • Richard D. McCormick, director of Wells Fargo & Company
  • John M. Peters, lawyer and legislator
  • Katie Porter, member of the United States House of Representatives from California's 45th congressional district
  • Daniel Rhodes, ceramic artist and author
  • Steve Stark, television producer, president of production, MGM Television
  • Brad Steiger (1936-2018), writer
  • Jeff Struecker, U.S. Army chaplain and author
  • Bill Tilghman, lawman and gunslinger
  • Don Ultang, Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer
  • Betsy Warland, poet and writer
  • Dale Warland, choral conductor and clinician
  • Kevin Wickander, MLB player

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See also

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